March 23, 2015 Interview – Michael Sweet of Sweet & Lynch and Stryper
Hard work and determination are the two keys for success in any facet of life. For dynamic Rock singer/guitarist Michael Sweet, the road has been paved with gold beginning with the success of Stryper some three decades ago, leading into a lengthy solo career, and even a stint in legendary Rock band Boston. While to the naked eye it would appear living has been easy for Sweet, the truth is none of it would have been possible if it was not the musician’s drive to continuously create Rock-n-Roll. Pouring his thoughts and feelings into his music, Sweet recently dove into a new project with iconic guitarist George Lynch, simply named Sweet & Lynch, for a studio album entitled Only to Rise. With an already impressive resume, the new endeavor offers a new side of Sweet to fans. Recently we sat down with Sweet for a personal look at his career in music, his latest project, writing songs, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Your career in Rock-n-Roll has been quite an accomplished one. When you first began Stryper over three decades ago, did you ever imagine where the road would take you?
Michael Sweet – Three decades ago, I did not know. I never really thought about it before to be honest, I was just busy enjoying every moment, enjoying the ride, and was not thinking long term. Although I feel that I should have, I wish I did because I would have planned how I did things, how I spent my money, invested my time, and what not. I definitely would have done things a bit differently, but it has been amazing and incredible. To still be doing it thirty-one years later and still doing it successfully, at least in my eyes, it has been incredible. If you add on to that the time before Stryper, it has almost been four decades for me, so it is just crazy.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it certainly is. Stryper has been going strong again now for many years. What inevitably made you decide to reunite with Stryper?
Michael Sweet – I thought we were definitely done and had gone our separate ways. I am one of those guys, good or bad, that when I move on from something I move onto something new. Nothing against the band, but I just figured we were over and it was time to do other things. The reason why we actually got together again was because we started talking and corresponding. Everything just felt really good. There was an excitement amongst all of us about the possibilities of performing. We did a one off date in Puerto Rico, Tim, Oz and I, and that felt incredible. The doors just started opening and we felt lead to do it again. We did a tour in 2003 and we called it a celebration tour because it was not an official reunion tour. After that tour, we wanted to continue. We decided to, and we have been going ever since.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it is really great because the band has been together ever since. You certainly have kept yourself extremely busy through the years from Stryper, to your time spent in Boston, to your solo material. What has been the key for you to keep those creative juices flowing through everything?
Michael Sweet – I think the keyword is “going”. As long as I keep going and moving, I think those creative juices are always going to come and be there. I have always got a song in my heart and in my head. It has never been a problem for me to come up with material, to write, produce, and perform albums. It just never has and I am very blessed to have that ability. I thank god for it.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, it definitely is a blessing to have that ability. Now you are actually part of this new project Sweet & Lynch. Tell us a little bit about what inspired this new adventure for you.
Michael Sweet – I was contacted by the label to be a part of a band. They wanted me to be the singer on this project. It was originally with the original guitar player John Levitt, who plays in Dokken. John had some other commitments and it did not work out quite as planned. I actually suggested George and the label loved the idea. I had done some shows recently with Lynch Mob so I had George’s information. We had become friends, hit it off, and exchanged information to stay in touch. George was brought into the project, then I wound up being hired to produce, then to co-write, and it all just fell into place. When I hired James Lomenzo and Brian Tichy and put together a really killer band, I could not be more pleased with the band, how things turned out, and how things sound on the album. I am really happy.
CrypticRock.com – As you should be. The debut album, Only To Rise, is out now and sounds great. What was it like working with George Lynch on this record? One would imagine it had to be a really cool experience.
Michael Sweet – It was absolutely incredible. He actually did all his tracks out in L.A. I did everything with James and Brian out on the East coast in Massachusetts. I did not spend any time with George actually, but it was great. We did a lot of talks on the telephone and corresponded through emails. There were no issues at all. It went as smooth as could be.It was such a pleasant experience and I love working with George. He really did a great job and we really work well together in terms of writing, creating the ideas, and coming up with everything. There were no hiccups whatsoever.
CrypticRock.com – As you had mentioned, it was a good experience. It definitely shows in the music. The album really seems to be a marriage between everything you have done thus far in your career and everything George has done up to this point in his career. Was that something you started to notice as the songs came together?
Michael Sweet – I did, and I knew, obviously, you are going to get some of the Stryper qualities and some of the Dokken qualities, because George has such a signature sound and my voice has its own thing. I think it is very recognizable, and with George’s playing and my voice, you are going to hear that instantly. As soon as I sing people are going to think Stryper. I knew that would be the case, but I did not know 100% how everything else would take form. I would discuss with George, “Why don’t you send me something that sounds a little like Van Halen,” and he sent me the guitar riff idea for “Only To Rise.” It was very alike to Van Halen and I loved it. We did discuss some things, but some things were on the fly and by the seat of our pants, basically. George would go in, record some ideas, send them to me, and I would say, “Yes, this is great. Perfect.”
CrypticRock.com – Sounds like it was really a pleasure. The music is phenomenal. These songs certainly do have an overall positive vibe to them and each song really does tell a story as well. The songs do see perhaps a different dynamic in your song writing though. Was that something you wanted to try and do with this project or did it just happen naturally?
Michael Sweet – Yes, absolutely. I purposely set out to try to stretch the lyrics a little bit. I am not going to write lyrics that are evil or on the dark side because that is not me. The lyrics all still have a very positive, uplifting, approach, and meaning to them. Then there is “September,” which is a dedication to 9/11, and those kinds of songs as well. I wanted to stretch out a little bit, but at the same time not go too far and do something that was shocking, unexpected, and not me. It was fun and the lyrics are real straight-ahead. It gets tricky when you are writing lyrics and when you are pumping album after album out, the music comes real easy, the lyrics take a little more time and thought for me. They do not come as easy.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that is completely understandable. As with anything, there is only so many ways to say something. You want to convey a message, so one would imagine it has to be difficult to write different lyrics.
Michael Sweet – Exactly, and to say something in a different way, at the end of the day, for the most part, most Rock bands are saying the same thing over and over again (laughing). You have to get creative on how to say it differently. Hopefully I have accomplished that.
CrypticRock.com – You certainly did with this Sweet & Lynch record. The production quality is phenomenal as well. Did you find the production went easily for you?
Michael Sweet – Yes, it did. I knew exactly what I wanted and how to achieve it to get the tones, and who I wanted to use. I have been in the studio my whole life. I started going into the studios when I was ten years old. My dad used to record Country sessions and I was there. He started having me playing on them, playing acoustic guitar and rhythm guitar. I grew up in the studio so I know a lot about the recording process. My ears have adjusted over the years to knowing how to get sounds, tones, what to do, how to lift the chorus with guitar overdubs and melodies, and how to build a melody. I just learned a lot over the years doing music and hopefully I have gotten pretty good at it. Sweet and Lynch was an opportunity for me, outside of Stryper obviously, to show people a bit more of what I can do as a producer. That was fun and pretty cool to do.
CrypticRock.com – Obviously the best experience is life experience. You had that life experience in the studio and you poured all that into this project, and it came out great.
Michael Sweet – Thank you, I am very excited about this production. I am very pleased with it. I listened to it and it has got a little bit of a different vibe. I purposely went after some things, for example the cymbals. I wanted a Van Halen sound to them. I have always loved the Van Halen cymbal sounds and I think we pulled it off. It was funny because one reviewer comment who one of the things he said he did not like about the album was the cymbals. I felt like going on and saying, “Then you must dislike every Van Halen album.” I must say that I love how it turned out though, and I am really pleased.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and you cannot please everyone. The question on many people’s mind is will this band perhaps go on a tour so the songs can be heard live?
Michael Sweet – I hope so. We are working on it. We are doing conference calls and we are trying. The tricky part is, with everyone being in different bands, is aligning everybody’s schedules. It does not always work. We are trying to make it happen and I would like to see tetn to fourteen city dates this year. I think people can expect that.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, that is something great to hear. It would really be phenomenal to hear this live and see the chemistry between yourself and the other members in the band on stage.
Michael Sweet – Absolutely, I look forward to it and hope it happens.
CrypticRock.com – You had mentioned about you not going to write something evil and that it is not you. Stryper had always been distinguished as a Christian Metal band. It seems that in the past ten or fifteen years, there has been an influx of Christian Hard Rock and Metal bands. It seems like it has really become a popular and something that really has taken off. What do you think about the current Christian Metal and Rock scene?
Michael Sweet – I do not really keep up with it. I come from a different school of thought and I do not like all the labels. I do not like being referred to as a Christian Rock band. We are not a Christian Rock band, we are a Rock band comprised of Christians. Just like any other Rock band out there, you have Rock bands that are comprised of drug addicts, you have Rock bands that are comprised of Satanists, and you have Rock bands that are comprised of Catholics like Slayer. Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler has the song “After Forever,” which is about Christ, but they were not labeled a Christian band. Actually the opposite, they were labeled a dark, almost at times a Satanic, band, and they are not. My point is that I just do not like all the labels. If you are going to label a band a Christian band, then you got to label all the other bands. If U2 is made up of members that are Catholic, then are they going to be called a Catholic Rock band ? I do not know where the label Christian Rock band came from. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around it.
CrypticRock.com – Many would agree with you there. Since that label has really become pronounced, especially nowadays with a lot of bands, it seems like you have people be closed minded to a particular band because they are labeled a Christian Rock band. They feel they do not want to listen to that because it is Christian Rock or Christian Metal. It is not fair to the bands.
Michael Sweet – Yes, and it instantly puts you in a box. When they put you in a box, it limits what you are put on this earth to do. I just feel like it does limit the band. Some people misinterpret that as saying that I am ashamed of my faith or I am running from my faith. I think the exact opposite, we never ran from our faith, we have always been the most full Christian Rock band that is comprised of Christians the whole time. We have never held back a punch. People certainly cannot say that we deny Christ or our faith, but I just do not like being called a Christian Rock band. We are a Rock band.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, that point is well made because it is so ridiculous how labels are put on to bands.
Michael Sweet – I have been trying to break down that theory for a long time now, although I do not think I ever will. There is a genre of Christian Rock and I guess that will always be.
CrypticRock.com – Unfortunately many people, as human beings, need something to be labeled otherwise people do not understand it. People almost need that comfort of things to a certain label.
Michael Sweet – Right, I get it. I do understand and agree with you, but if that is the case, then we have to label every band then. We have to go and find the Atheist bands and label them an Atheist Rock band. We have to find the bands that are Satanist and label them Satanic Rock bands. We have to put that label on everybody.
CrypticRock.com – Very good point. It is very silly to pigeonhole music or any art for that matter.. Earlier, you mentioned Van Halen and that you were going for that sound. What were some of your musical influences growing up?
Michael Sweet – I was influenced by everything from Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beatles early on, Elvis Presley, and Chuck Berry early on. Then I started to get into bands like Bad Company, Foghat, Cheap Trick, and Aerosmith. When Van Halen came on the scene, they changed my life. Judas Priest changed my life vocally, Van Halen guitar-wise, obviously Randy Rhoads and Ozzy Osbourne changed my life. That was just a big life altering musical change for me at that time, like late ’70s and early ’80s. I was not influenced by any ’80s bands whatsoever. I respected them, but I never really listened to them. The only band that I really listened to, and we played with them every other weekend, was Ratt. They were a house band and we were a house band, so I loved Ratt. I listened to them often but I never really listened to any other ’80s bands to be honest. Journey is another great band.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like you have a really great sample there of a lot of Classic Rock that really influenced you. That is some great stuff there.
Michael Sweet – I definitely respect all types of music. Like I said, I grew up on The Beatles, Elvis, Creedence Clearwater, Buck Owen, Ray Price on the Country side, Tammy Wynette, and Al Green. My grandmother, when she would babysit us, would play Al Green all the time. I love the Bee Gees. I respect their songwriting abilities, their vocal harmonization, and amazing talent. I respect all types of music.
CrypticRock.com – That is the best way to be. You speak of the Bee Gees, a lot of people do not realize that the Bee Gees started out more like a Beatles Rock band before they got into the Disco genre.
Michael Sweet – No doubt about it. They were influenced by The Beatles. They were incredible singers and songwriters and they have proven that. I just loved the blend, there is nothing like a three or four part vocal blend. Those guys just lock in and it is just beautiful. There is nothing like it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it really is special. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Michael Sweet – I was pretty freaked out by Jaws (1975). I do not know if you would consider it a Horror movie. I had trouble taking showers after that movie. Then there was Friday the 13th (1980), as a teenager, seeing that kind of freaked me out a little bit. I can not think of any favorites off hand, but those two affected me in a bad way ( laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It always seems like the ones that you saw as a kid always affect you in a certain way. The Exorcist (1973) has frightened many, and it still does to this day.
Michael Sweet – Yes, that too for me. To this day, every time I see that face of the TV screen, I cannot change the channel fast enough. That is definitely one of those movies, and I think the reason why is that it was done in such a real way. The quality of it, especially for the time, it was done so amazingly well in a real way that it felt too real. That made it even more scary.